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Walking the Gorges de la Frau in the Ariege

Well, that didn’t go to plan. In the spirit of trying to do one a walk a week this summer (admittedly this plan was only hatched last week and we’re already halfway through the holiday), we set off one morning to try our luck with the Gorges de la Frau. Having seen pictures and reviewed a few maps (although none with an elevation profile) it looked like a reasonable walk with a good path, some nice “features” to keep everyone interested, and also a sensible distance for us (a 6km round trip, walking to the end of the gorge and back.)

With lunched packed, water bottles filled and distributed, sun cream and hats administered, we were there and ready to go at a sensible time of day. It’s only a short drive from Puivert and sign-posted from the main road from Belesta, so we found it easily even without a map.

There are two places to park: the first by the small hameau of Paleil, and a second further up. It’s signed as being 2.3km from the first parking area, so we drove up, not wanting to ruin our plan by adding an extra 5km of whinging, sorry.. walking to our route.

The approach to the gorge is impressive, as it winds down a narrow road with the valley sides getting steeper and steeper. Parking is free and in a small lay-by. Even in August, it was quiet and we were only the second car to park.

The end of the road and the start of the walk up the gorge

The start of the path is marked by a large boulder, and from here it’s literally uphill all the way. We had some difficulty persuading the 5-year-old to walk and the 3-year-old soon took to the sling, which meant it was a very good workout for James (meanwhile I carried all the supplies and was also left to pep-talk the older one – an energetic endeavour in itself!)

From the information I’d gathered beforehand, I knew it was a straight in and out, so hadn’t bothered to find a map (I had tried but there wasn’t one online) – but that meant I also hadn’t bothered about the gradient. With James carrying DS, who downright refused to walk, and DD whining for water and snacks, we stopped for a quick snack after just 30 minutes on our feet. There was a nice spot just to the side of the track, perfect for all of us to squeeze in. We shared our snacks – some homemade cookies – and James and I looked at each other in dismay at the sound of the occasional falling rock. We liked features on our wall but rocks falling from above generally wasn’t one of them! We resolved to walk a little further, thinking it would be a shame to stop now in case the path flattened out just around the next bend, so packed up our snacks and carried on.

Cue more whinging. Then as we rounded a bend, and just at the point where the gorge did look to be opening up a little, a small flurry of rocks came tumbling down the rock face and clattered onto the path just ahead of us. Oh-kay then. Time to retreat? We decided, given the whinging and whining, the uncertainty of the remaining ascent, and the mini avalanche, it would be a good time to turn back, so that’s what we did.

The walk down actually felt like quite hard work. The rocky rubble was slippy underfoot, which made it a bit stressful for James as he was still carrying DS. We made it down to the car without incident, with DD starting to enjoy the walk now it was downhill and required less effort.

Almost back to the car. Phew!

We bundled ourselves into the car and drove back down to the Aire de la Palais, which turned out to be a great idea and actually one of the highlights of the walk! Because the route is on the GR7, this area is designated as a rest point for walkers. It has plenty of shade, some picnic benches, and the mostly dry riverbed runs alongside. There’s parking for cars and also for horses, as it’s quite common for people to tackle GR7 with horses and packhorses or donkeys. At some point, money was evidently spent constructing a toilet and sink area, but sadly that’s now boarded up with the water disconnected. Whether because of lack of funds or due to vandalism, I can imagine that arriving their, having walked through the gorge, to find there’s no water would be quite annoying! But for us, with plentiful supplies, it was fine.

A lovely spot for a picnic with an added bonus; no falling rocks.

There was space for us to eat and space for the two little ones to (finally!) run around freely. They played in the river bed, collected sticks to “build a fire”, and threw stones in the water, where there was water alongside a small pebbly bank. It was nice and James and I were able to relax for a while as everyone amused themselves free from danger!

Having returned home and checked the stats (map nerd, sorry) it looks like we walked just under 2 miles in total but we climbed ~330m in that time. To give you some perspective on that, on our walk up to Refuge du Chioula the week before, we walked for 4 miles and ascended just ~150m – meaning, it was as steep on paper as it felt to our legs.

On the way down we passed many quite a few others on the way up. Mostly they were families, either our age and the older generation, or our age with a younger generation in tow. Judging by their pace and the looks on their faces, I’m guessing they made similar assumptions to us, also basing their expectations on photos, which make the track look flat and pretty accessible. Still, with hard hats and the expectation of a short sharp climb, I’d still say this works as a family walk, just be prepared to go up a bit and have a good stick or a pair of poles to help you on the descent.

If you’re interested in details of the route and downloadable route map, along with useful info about what to expect, click here.

Are you looking for information about family walks in the Aude and Ariege? We love to walk – and are gradually adding walk details to this blog. We have small children, which means most of the walks we do will be short and suitable for families. Here are some posts of our most recent walks.

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